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Wednesday, November 17, 1999 Published at 14:19 GMT

World: Middle East

Conspiracy theories spread

Comment has focused on the last words of a co-pilot

By Middle East correspondent Jim Muir in Cairo

While American air transport safety officials delay handing over their investigation into the EgyptAir crash to the FBI, conspiracy theories are surfacing in the Egyptian press about the last minutes of Flight 990.

The loss of flight 990
Egypt is reluctant to concede the possibility that one of its pilots may have been responsible for deliberately crashing the plane, and is sending more investigators and translators to join the inquiry.

Cairo is clearly determined to exhaust all other possibilities before admitting there's even a chance that one of the EgyptAir pilots might have decided to commit suicide, taking all those on board down with him.

The semi-official daily Al-Ahram said the religious phrase which one of the co-pilots was recorded as uttering shortly before the aircraft plunged did not represent anything unusual or sinister.

It said it was a normal one often voiced by EgyptAir pilots when they reached cruising altitude after take-off.

Criticism of US

Other sections of the Egyptian press criticised the speed with which the American authorities were preparing to launch a criminal investigation.

One commentator said it reflected a fast food mentality, adding the accusation that a high-level decision had been taken in Washington to bury the truth about the crash for ever.

The government-owned Al-Akhbar pointed a finger at the Israeli intelligence, Mossad.

It also accused the Americans of trying to cover up the truth, which it said might be a security lapse, a technical fault in the American-made Boeing airliner or even the downing of the aircraft by a missile.

Such speculation and conspiracy theories have been rampant in the Egyptian media for days, reflecting a strong national reluctance to turn the spotlight on the EgyptAir pilots, who are highly respected figures in local society.

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